Shrub or tree to 15 m. Bark thin, red-brown, peeling off in large papery sheets. Branches crooked, stout, spreading; new shoots hairy when young. Leaves alternate, oblong to ovate or oval, 3–10 × 4.5 cm, apex acute to obtuse, margins entire or serrate, coriaceous, usually tomentose below when young, glabrescent later. Inflorescence a panicle with tomentose branchlets. Corolla ovoid-urceolate, white, often pink-tinged, 7 mm, calyx lobes broadly ovate or orbicular, obtuse, pinkish white, slow to fall, ovary pubescent. Fruit dark red, 8–10 mm across, edible. Flowering February to May (Mexico). Standley 1924, Powell 1998. Distribution GUATEMALA; HONDURAS; MEXICO: Chihuahua and Nuevo León to Vera cruz, Oaxaca and Sinaloa; USA: southern New Mexico, western Texas. Habitat Wooded canyons and mountain slopes, between 1300 and 2100 m asl, oak forest/pine-oak forest ; moister sites than A. arizonica (Martin et al. 1998). USDA Hardiness Zone 8–9. Conservation status Lower Risk. Illustration Hudson 2004, Sternberg 2004; NT33, NT156. Cross-reference K164. Taxonomic note This is a very variable species, with numerous synonyms, including A. texana Buckley, sometimes A. xalapensis var. texana (Buckley) Gray. The name A. texana is maintained by McVaugh & Rosatti (1978), who note that a thorough revision of these important Mexican trees is required.
Even more than Arbutus arizonica, A. xalapensis is worthy of any attempt to get it established, as its bark is perhaps the most spectacular of all in the genus, and a highlight of its native habitats (Martin et al. 1998). The US champion is 9 m tall, 2.8 m dbh, with a 13 m crown-spread (Powell 1998). Again at Berkeley, there is a specimen of A. xalapensis from a collection made by D.E. Breedlove and D. Mahoney in Coahuila State in 1994, and there is another tree in the San Francisco Botanical Garden. A young plant at Tregrehan, grown from a 1994 collection by Maurice Foster in the Sierra Peña Nevada, Nuevo León, is fully established, flowering each year in early summer as well as having well-developed shaggy red bark. This is paler on the undersides of the branches.